Could you potentially be dealing with a tech addicted child? Technology addiction in children is a real concern for parents and is now recognized by psychologists as a behavioural addiction. However, according to the latest studies, the average age of children with their own personal device is 6 yrs old. This is what I believe is called a "Catch 22". So what should you be looking for and what can you do if you think your child may have a addiction to their device?
Why does this happen?
Technology is an easy addiction. Its fast, its legal, its accepted, its personalized, it's under your control and readily available. Every interaction with a personal digital device can release dopamine into the brain, which makes us feel good and in turn, we want more and more. Technology actually has been proven to alter brain functions and neural pathways. Often people who struggle to get their needs met in a healthy manor gravitate to the simple pleasure of a glowing screen.
For kids, I think it's also worth mentioning the tremendous feeling of power that comes with having their own personal device. Social media is filled with videos of teenagers flipping out when someone takes their phone. In many ways, their device is the one thing in which they have complete control over. These outburst become more then a funny way to poke fun at our children when we consider that technology, and specifically the internet, has an ennate predatory nature for childhood curiosity. The unfortunate reality is that without monitoring, a device can begins to replace the parent as a primary influence. Technology is designed to be easy, but parenting is the hardest job on the planet (and the pay sucks). The internet isn't afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations with your kids, it's also always available. The temptation of grown-up knowledge can be very addicting to young minds with minimal guidance. The silence an ease that technology can create does often come at a cost. It's important to recognize when things are getting out of hand.
What are the warning signs?
I think it's important acknowledge that we live in a technology heavy world. People without a fluent understanding of technology are in most cases, at a disadvantage. A parents first reaction of banning electronics is not a constructive way to facilitate healthy use of electronics. Children without access to electronics often report feeling isolated from their peers. Personally, I carry my iPad with me regularly while working in schools. It is a very versatile resource that enables me to create resources on the fly. So if you're freaking out because your child is defaulting to technology to solve problems and complete tasks you may first want to take a look at these common signs of an actual technology addiction:
Trouble emotionally regulating
Extreme behaviour without technology
All conversations revolve around tech experiences
Low self esteem/ Extremely self conscious
Irritable mood swings
Constantly wanting to see people's screens
So what can we do?
Here are some simple things you can do to help facilitate technology in your household and insure that the tech doesn't become a problem.
1. Limit exposure
The quickest and easiest way to prevent an addiction is to limit exposure to the addictive
substance. There are a lot of settings built into most devices that allow you to limit content and prolonged usage. Knowing these settings is a must if you intend to create a healthy tech dynamic in your household. There are also several apps available that can help you set the availability of tech times and monitor technology usage.
For an outline of kid friendly iPad settings and apps to help limit tech exposure, check out this youtube video.
2. Limit brain waster games
Technology can be used for a lot of creative and educational means, however, most people would rather play Candy Crush. Limit the mindless games on your child's device to 5 or less games and don't pay for them. Mindless games have very little purpose, the interface is incredibly simple and wins are easy. They are the games you can keep playing for long periods of time and when you finally wake up from the trance you realize you have been wasting your life. I would suggest putting a maximum of 5 of the following style games on a child's ipad.
Run games - Swipe to avoid obstacles as their character uncontrollably continues to move forward.
Match 3 - Swiping to create 3 in a row combinations
Tap games - Games where simply tapping the screen creates progress.
Open exploration games - Games where users explore an open world, however there are no goals or reasons for the interaction.
God like games- Games where users make a digital character do whatever they want. They are often quite silly.
3. Pay for creation apps
When a child spots my ipad the first question I get is, "What games do you have?" Most kids have no idea you can use an ipad to actually create amazing things. Downloading photography apps, stop motion animation apps, video editing apps, book creating apps are examples of what you want to fill your child's device with. Any app that encourages your child to create real world creations will alter their perceptions of what technology is for. I would love to hear, "what have you made with your ipad", become the new default question.
4. Create good portable toys
A portable toy car case, doll house or lego set is a relatively simple and effective way to help your child steer clear of tech when out and about. These toys are also more enjoyable to interact with and generate imagination and possibility thinking. Keep in mind that these toys might get lost from time to time so don't break the bank. I would highly suggest creating nice miniature carrying cases for these toys to keep in the family vehicle.
Check out our pinterest page for pins of our favourite activities and resources.
5. Play board games
There are so many great games being released at your local game store. Invest in fun family games to play. Card and board games actually facilitate positive social interaction and interpersonal skills, which is the exact opposite of technology. Board games will teach your child how to function amongst people without the need for technology.
6. Make your home a creative environment
Keep the felts juicy, paper stocked, and supplies organized. Ok, this is easier said then done, but if you can insure that there is always something interesting available it is more likely kids will find other ways to stay engaged instead of staring at a screen. I suggest buying nice art supplies and creating comfortable creative spaces. The more creative supplies and spaces you have the more likely your child will have flashes of genius.
7. Get outside!
This ones pretty simple and straight forward. Make sure your kids have good outdoor gear so the outside can be enjoyed no matter the weather. Research good outdoor places to explore and have a few gems with undercover areas. These could be parks, schools, playgrounds, trails, or beaches. Visit them regularly and often and make sure to bring some cool things to play with, such as shovels, magnifying glasses, balls, and anything else cool you can think of.
Also look at signing up your kids for extracurricular activities like sports and clubs. These team like environments are were healthy friendships are created. Instead of buying the latest device, think about signing your child up for a new club.
Change the narrative
Technology is a double edged sword. On one side it helps us be more productive and has opened the door to countless awe inspiring possibilities. We often marvel at what the lasted technologies allow us to do. The other side of the coin is a much darker reality and has proven to bring out the worst in human traits. Hopefully, this article has inspired you to engage with technology in a positive way and prevent your child from the dangers hidden in their devices.